Since Darla Hansen has lately been a topic of discussion in Anchorage, what with the movie crew and everything, I thought I’d add my first-hand impressions.
I met Darla Hansen twice and talked to her by phone a third time. The first meeting was at her home on Old Harbor Road, the year after Bob confessed. It seemed like she was still in shock, but she was a considerate, almost fussy, hostess. She dutifully showed me the house, which was for sale at the time. We only talked briefly about Bob; she told me she’d taken care of all the legal issues, so his life would no longer rule hers. She added that most of her neighbors wanted her to stay; she wasn’t so sure. In all of this, she was determined and matter-of-fact, like many midwestern women I’ve met over the years.
The second time we met was at a Bible study group with some of her church friends. I recall that the topic of discussion was “talking to God.” Everyone said that, yes, they did talk to God. Only Darla said that God talked back. One of the men in the study group subtly rolled his eyes, but none of us commented further. If anyone needed divine guidance, surely Darla qualified.
By the time I spoke to Darla the third time, she had moved back to Arkansas. She didn’t much want to talk about Bob. She wanted to leave him in another place; she wanted to leave him in the past. But she did confirm this much: she suspected he’d been up to something, but had no idea how deep that something went. As a recent book by an FBI profiler notes, this is often the case with dangerous criminals; their success depends on disappearing into the shadows of “good appearances.” When he needed to, Bob Hansen was very adept at doing “nice,” “hardworking,” “family man” and “upstanding citizen.” He fooled a lot of people for a long time.
That said, in all our conversations I was struck by Darla’s sensitivity and intelligence, though I couldn’t help but think her willfully naive. Like all of us, she is a flawed being. Unlike most of us, she happened to marry a monster, who used her good-heartedness against her.